Release Date: Jan 8, 2016
Record label: Columbia
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Contemporary Pop/Rock, Experimental Rock, Art Rock
Review Summary: David Bowie the artist, at his finest, portrays David Bowie the man.Before the recent death of its creator, I wasn't sure if Blackstar was worthy of a "perfect" 5, as our system dictates. I was certain that "Blackstar," the titular track that I'd heard months prior to the album's release, was worthy of as much adulation as could be thrown its way, most especially from my humble camp. And before even hearing the body of work it was to be a part of, I felt certain that it would be equally as worthy of praise.
David Bowie has achieved the status of deity in our modern age. That’s why the soon-to-be 69-year-old artist has almost completely removed himself from the public eye and refuses to give interviews. He doesn’t have to. His position in the pantheon has long been secured. Bowie gladly plays his ….
When David Bowie suddenly broke his decade-long musical silence – in 2013, with The Next Day – it was with an album that was very much ‘traditional’ Bowie. Sure, there was strange, otherworldly stuff in there, but it was all relatively straightforward: a kind of ‘Remember me? This is what I do’ comeback, fitting in neatly next to his best work, if inevitably lacking the sort of cultural clout that Bowie wielded back in his heyday. But if you were thinking that David Bowie was content to spend his dotage slowly winding down, think again.
Three years ago, with nary a hint of warning, David Bowie returned after a decade-long absence with the single “Where Are We Now?” (released on his 66th birthday), and word that a new album, The Next Day, was on the horizon. It was a stunning return for an artist who many assumed had permanently retired from recording. Fortunately, instead of one last hurrah by an aging musical legend, The Next Day appears to have been the start of an exciting new phase in Bowie’s career.
A fact that will eternally tickle me about David Bowie is that the 56-date first UK leg of the Ziggy Stardust tour – right before he went off to America, where he played prestige venues and was presented as a massive British star – took in tiny dates in such exotic locales as Dunstable, Sutton Coldfield and not one but two Aylesbury shows, before winding up at something called the Top Rank Suite in Hanley, Staffordshire. He was not afraid to put the graft in: David Bowie knows the value of making himself available. But he also knows the value of making himself scarce: his surprise 2013 comeback album, The Next Day, came after a retreat from the public eye so successful that everyone with any interest in the man either assumed he was at death's door or had been made to sign a non-disclosure agreement promising not to blab that he wasn't at death's door.
David Bowie has died many deaths yet he is still with us. He is popular music’s ultimate Lazarus: Just as that Biblical figure was beckoned by Jesus to emerge from his tomb after four days of nothingness, Bowie has put many of his selves to rest over the last half-century, only to rise again with a different guise. This is astounding to watch, but it's more treacherous to live through; following Lazarus’ return, priests plotted to kill him, fearing the power of his story.
None of us knew that Blackstar was to be the epitaph. Objectively speaking, Monday morning’s desperately sad news shouldn’t impact upon how this record is understood – and yet the knowledge that his 25th and final studio album consciously represents goodbye transforms initial appraisal – that Blackstar is an absorbing (if consciously arty and perhaps a shade self-indulgent) listen – into a work poignant beyond words. Confession; this is a rewrite.
In terms of grand comeback gestures, 2013’s The Next Day and the surprise surrounding its release was always going to be hard for David Bowie to top. Within a minute of the opening track it becomes totally apparent that this time around, the music will be doing the vast majority of the talking. Looking back, TND seems to function almost as a victory lap around the musical terrains that Bowie had conquered over the course of his career – plenty of it was executed perfectly well, at times it was inspired, but on reflection there wasn’t much new ground covered.
It's strange to write a review for a new Bowie album knowing there will be no new one after this. But then it's a record that gains much more significance once you understand it's his eulogy, one he gave to himself. Appropriate for a man who so othered himself and his personality that his own concept album is essentially about being David Bowie. Johnny Cash's eulogy video was one of the closed down Johnny Cash Museum and his own regret and pain.
I’m faced with two impossibilities: one, the death of David Bowie, and two, the act of critiquing Bowie’s portentous last album post-mortem. If I were feeling more whimsical, I’d list Blackstar as Bowie’s last magic trick, a memorial to himself, scheduled almost precisely in time with his passing. But to call this magic would be to diminish both the sadness of this loss and his knack for reinvention.
David Bowie's final album, Blackstar, may start where his tidy and accessible 2013 album, The Next Day, left off (a “solitary candle” stands in the villa of Ormen on the first track, the seeming aftermath of the midnight candle ceremony on “You Will Set the World on Fire”), but the continuity ends there, as Blackstar is a hard, bleak, and dense effort, with Bowie in the complex and contemplative mood that defined his more experimental work over the years. The spastic piano of “Aladdin Sane” and “Lady Grinning Soul,” the cloudy soundscapes of Low and Heroes, and the jerky plastic rock of Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps certainly echo here, but Blackstar is defiantly a thing of its own, allowing Bowie to revisit his career-spanning, paradoxical fears—either that his life is ending imminently, or that it never will—with fascinating new sounds. The album arrives in tandem with Bowie's play Lazarus, which resumes the tale of The Man Who Fell to Earth's Thomas Newton, an alien who comes to our world and makes the crucial mistake of falling in love.
The first David Bowie album without a picture of the 69-year-old artist on its cover substitutes a shot of another star – a stark black symbol, into which a great deal can be read. This ideogram presides over a startling record that sounds far more urgent, contemporary and elliptical than Bowie’s 2013 comeback, The Next Day, an album that fell unexpectedly from the sky. Although Blackstar is a Bowie album through and through, suffused with his distinct melodic voice and Bowie’s preferred instrument of the 80s – the saxophone – there’s a scorched earth feel to its seven, often lengthy, tracks.
Contemplating the role of reinvention when discussing David Bowie’s career path is something of a moot point, as it is an expected pattern from an artist who creates with purpose and not relevance. Three years ago, however, there was a justifiable reason to question Bowie’s reigning eminence after a string of early 2000’s releases that found him revisiting past successes with not-so remarkable results. In other words, The Next Day felt like a crucial turning point in his career, one where he rejected any kind of theatrical guise and focused on delivering songs that just had to be good.
Not every examination of a pop record requires an elaborate look at context and character, but anything by David Bowie demands it. In some superficial sense, Bowie's albums are vehicles for abstract character arcs, and each one leads into the next by either following through on previous themes or abandoning them altogether. The one constant of David Bowie's career is his persistent evolution, an enduring legacy defined by change.
Two years ago, no one expected David Bowie to release The Next Day, his first record in ten years and first album of wholly original material since 1999's 'Hours. . .
For more than 40 years David Bowie has been a synonym for ‘reinvention’, the master of messing with expectations. He’s an artist who has always teased, surprised and produced the astonishing. “All my big mistakes are when I try to second-guess or please an audience,” he said in an interview with The Word in 2003. And yet, though his return in 2013 - with the relatively straightforward ‘The Next Day’ - was surprising and unexpected, it also seemed to be a sign that the master was ready to celebrate the spoils of his incomparable legacy.
As he reaches his 69th birthday, David Bowie finds himself in a rarefied position, even by the standards of the rock aristocracy. He does not give interviews, make himself available to promote new releases, or explain himself in any way. He does not tour the world playing his hits. In fact, he doesn’t do anything that rock stars are supposed to do.
Three years ago, with little warning, David Bowie ended a decade-long break from studio releases with The Next Day. The second album he's released since that unexpected return to the limelight is an even greater surprise: one of the most aggressively experimental records the singer has ever made. Produced with longtime collaborator Tony Visconti and cut with a small combo of New York-based jazz musicians whose sound is wreathed in arctic electronics, Blackstar is a ricochet of textural eccentricity and pictorial-shrapnel writing.
When David Bowie returned from a 10-year hiatus with 2013’s The Next Day, he could have sanded down the edges of one of the longest and most enigmatic careers in pop history. For a while, it almost seemed like that was what he was doing. The Next Day ruthlessly cannibalized his past, pooling styles and gestures from classic Bowie albums into a solidly mid-tempo simmer.
Finally, David Bowie’s recorded an album that comports with my idea of a David Bowie album in 2016: art-damaged ballads on which several excellent musicians flesh out tricky time signatures and unexpected chord progressions. Bowie croons a lot, mostly about bluebirds and evergreens and where the f**k did Monday go. Averaging 40 minutes, including a couple tunes that have gotten generous airings in the last 18 months, ★ (pronounced “Blackstar”) is what he should’ve released in 2013 instead of the staid, fusty The Next Day.
Crooned and wailed over a backdrop of dark jazz, spy soundtrack, and synth pad, Blackstar finds David Bowie—now old enough to be grandpa to a big chunk of the music-streaming public—at the forefront of something. Admittedly, Bowie is a one-man hall of mirrors, and anything new he does ends up reflecting what he’s tried before. Here, it’s certain Berlin outliers (“Beauty And The Beast,” “Red Sails”) and parts of the ’90s concept album Outside, plus his fascinations with Nadsat, the fictional language of A Clockwork Orange, and Scott Walker, the pop star turned avant-garde poet.
Roy Orbison and his wife, Barbara, during a tour of Britain in 1969, a year of heartache for the singer. Roy Orbison and his wife, Barbara, during a tour of Britain in 1969, a year of heartache for the singer. Roy Orbison, "One of the Lonely Ones" (Roy Orbison Records). This heart-wrenching 1969 album lay dormant for 46 years.
“I’m not a pop star,” David Bowie whimsically sings during the title track on his 25th studio album, Blackstar (stylized as ?). Indeed, Bowie has been defying easy classification and modern convention his entire five-decade long career – brazenly casting aside styles and trends that he brought into fashion long before they had a chance to define him or hold his ever-evolving music back. While the music world was struggling to come up with a suitable description of precisely what Bowie was on about, he continuously took his sound in thrilling new directions that confounded critics and fans alike until they grew comfortable with the change.
David Bowie in the music video for "Blackstar." David Bowie walks into a bar, finds a band and emerges a year later with an album that sounds unlike anything he's done before. The story behind “Blackstar” (ISO/Columbia) — released days before the performer died of cancer — begins with Bowie dropping in to a New York jazz joint in the spring of 2014 to see the Donny McCaslin quartet perform, and soon after the album began taking shape in a series of secretive recording sessions. McCaslin and his bandmates ended up giving Bowie new musical shapes to mutate, and the singer took some chances.
[See Also: Revisiting Blackstar in light of Bowie’s passing] SEEMINGLY in tandem, the Starman returns to our speakers as The Force Awakens across global cineplexes. Sure, it was little more than a coincidence—but could the timing have been better? David Bowie and Star Wars both are relevant-as-ever monuments of ‘70s sci-fi iconography. And much like J.J.
When the first 30-second teasers for ★ (Blackstar) arrived last October, I tried to put a brave face on, but deep down I wondered if the world needed another Scott Walker. You might find this unforgivable, but as a disciple of the four Scotts and 'Til The Band Comes In, I can't be entirely alone in wondering on occasion if the world needs the one it's got. It's a churlish reaction to a singer breaking all sorts of artistic boundaries in the present, but there's still a part of me that wants Walker to eschew the cold monastic chanting and a part that wants to hear that familiar croon live, reworking - but not too much - old favourites.
David Bowie — ? (ISO/RCA/Columbia)This, right here, is not the David Bowie review I wrote. I finished writing that review sometime Saturday afternoon, and it was a review about an album by an epochal artist who was still a vital creative force, about something that seemed like just the latest chapter in an ongoing story. Now we all know that ? is an album that Bowie wrote and created knowing that it would be his last.
It's difficult to separate 2016's Blackstar from The Next Day, the album David Bowie released with little warning in 2013. Arriving after a ten year drought, The Next Day pulsated with the shock of the new—as Bowie's first album of new material in a decade, how could it not?—but ultimately it was grounded in history, something its cover made plain in its remix of the Heroes artwork. Blackstar occasionally recalls parts of Bowie's past—two of its key songs, "Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime)" and "'Tis A Pity She Was A Whore," were even aired in 2014 as supporting singles for the Nothing Has Changed compilation (both are revamped for this album)—but Bowie and producer Tony Visconti are unconcerned with weaving winking postmodern tapestries; now that they've shook free their creative cobwebs, they're ready to explore.
David Bowie returns to outer space on his 25th album, and the result is a jazz record - or more precisely, a rock album as interpreted by jazz musicians. Working with producer Tony Visconti and New York-based saxophonist/bandleader Donny McCaslin, Bowie melds brawny riffs and distorted grooves with jazz chords to create a sound that essentially frees him from the hooky song expectations that dog someone considered one of the greatest pop musicians of all time. When an elder statesman of rock goes jazz, the Christmas album usually isn't far behind.
David Bowie turns 69 on Jan. 8, and has chosen to celebrate by releasing his 25th studio album, whose title is a small black star and is pronounced “Blackstar.” Ardent fans know better than to have pre-conceived notions about what the British rock icon might be up to. They’ve realized it’s far wiser simply to let Bowie wander where he will, and to follow along and enjoy the ride — whether to inner or outer space, or somewhere right here among us earthlings.
Instability and ambiguity are the only constants on David Bowie’s “Blackstar,” the strange, daring, ultimately rewarding album he releases this week on his 69th birthday. It’s at once emotive and cryptic, structured and spontaneous and, above all, willful, refusing to cater to the expectations of radio stations or fans. The closest thing it offers as an explanation of its message is the title of its finale: “I Can’t Give Everything Away.” Mr.
Is ‘Blackstar’ vintage Bowie? No, but nor is that the intention. Actually, one of the few certainties we can take from this restless, relentlessly intriguing album is that David Bowie is positively allergic to the idea of heritage rock..
He shoots, he scores, he falls wanking to the floor on this boldly experimental jazz odyssey. Can lightning strike twice? Bowie’s 2013 comeback album The Next Day was as much a testament to brilliant marketing as musical skill, arriving from nowhere after a decade of silence, secrecy and sinister rumours. It topped the charts globally, earning the legendary rock recluse his first UK No.1 in 20 years, and helped make the David Bowie Is...